The Nashville Predators have come to the first intermission mark of the season, one-third in. At the start of the week, prior to Tuesday and Thursday home tilts with Vancouver and Carolina, Nashville stood at 13-11-3, five points out of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference. But there is much reason for optimism as the season rolls toward the Sochi Olympics in February.
The Predators have been what amounts to a patchwork quilt so far this season, nowhere has that been more true than in ‘goal’. It is said you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. That has crystallized with Pekka Rinne this season. An all-star and the team’s highest-paid player, we knew he was good—but losing him to injury has only made this clearer. Nashville has started three different goaltenders this season, and making the pieces fit has been difficult for Coach Barry Trotz.
Rinne started only nine games, compiling a 4-4-1 record—but with a 2.31 goals against average. Next was Carter Hutton, starting eight games and going 4-3-1, but with a GAA of 3.39. With Nashville’s style of play, that does not work. Bring in Marek Mazanek, and he has helped right the ship. Mazanek has a GAA of 2.00 and a save percentage higher than Rinne’s, but was only 5-4-1 entering Tuesday. He does have the only two shutouts recorded by Predators goaltenders this season. Rinne should return around Christmas time if all goes well, the team will emerge deeper from his absence.
Offensively, Nashville entered the week 24th in goal scoring averaging just 2.3 per game. The Predators were led by Captain Shea Weber’s 7. Mike Fisher, Patric Hornqvist and Craig Smith had tallied six. David Legwand led with 20 points, five goals with 15 assists. The Predators ranked 11th on the power play with 17 power play goals. The penalty kill ranked 8th.
Only six players had played in all of the first 27 games for Nashville. Most notable of the six would have to be rookie defenseman Seth Jones. The fourth pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, Jones has been finding his legs more and more. Among the league leaders in ice time, Jones has scored three goals including two on the power play, and one of the season’s highlights with a game winner in Montreal. His plus/minus is -10. That’s a number that needs to improve from the defense spot, but you can see him mature as the games go by.
As the week began, the Predators stood fifth in the Central Division and tenth in the West. Defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago has the best record in the NHL and is first in the division followed by St. Louis, Colorado, and Minnesota. But all in all, Nashville is not in a very bad position considering everything they have been through. After a road-heavy November, the Predators play nine of 13 at the Bridgestone Arena in December. It is time to make a move.